Alex Hamer
Workers dig up the portion of the affected pipe that is 8-10 feet underground on October 26, 2016.

Broken Pipe Dumps 10 Million Gallons of Raw Sewage Into Sacred Onondaga Lake

Alex Hamer

Up to 10 million gallons of raw sewage spilled into Onondaga Lake after a 50-year-old pipe burst during 21 hours of straight rain in Syracuse, New York on October 21. The 42-inch diameter pipe broke south of the Inner Harbor along the Onondaga Lake shoreline.

For more than 24 hours, 5,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed into the sacred lake per minute, according to a report that Onondaga County filed with the New York State Department of Conservation.

“Diluted raw sewage that had coarse screening removal” is how the spill was described in a press release.

A bypass system was put in place so that repairs could be made last weekend, when flow through the pipe would be at a lower level. A disinfectant drip was also being used, though the county’s release stated, “No health or environmental impacts have been identified.”

Complicating matters was that the pipe broke near railroad tracks owned by CSX Corporation. This will require coordinating with CSX in order to ensure a safe and effective fix.

The spill raised the specter of more pipe breaks, given the aging infrastructure.

“Certainly we try to make sure all the assets that we have, whether it’s adjoining the lake or any other water body or any residential area, we have a keen concern for the environment,” said Tom Rhoads Commissioner of the Department of Water Environment Protection for Onondaga County, to Indian Country Today when asked about the danger of further leaks. “We share the same concerns for the lake that we are all working on restoring. These are unfortunate conditions that happen with aging infrastructure.”

Beyond fixing the leak, there is no plan for a cleanup of Onondaga Lake from this spill. Onondaga County officials have warned people not to fish in that area of the lake or have any contact with the water in the affected area.

Onondaga Lake, is already a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site, under a partial cleanup for years after decades of industrial pollution was pumped into it. Honeywell Corp. is heading up the cleanup efforts, but with plans that the Onondaga Nation says are inadequate and don’t go far enough.

RELATED: Lake Cleanup Fail: Onondaga Deride Flawed Plan, Demand Dredging

“It’s another concern about the conditions of the water,” said Tadodaho Sidney Hill of the Onondaga Nation. “This brings up all those issues all over, this brings up our concerns with pipelines because they do break. It brings up all the issues about water with the pipelines and all the stuff going on in North Dakota. We have these spills and breaks that go into the water.”

Hill also was concerned about the infrastructure in the area.

“It’s hard to protect from these things happening,” Hill said. “In our area here the mayor was adamant about infrastructure, that was her big concern, and she didn’t seem to get much backing on that. You have to have your infrastructure or else you have health concerns and safety concerns.”

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David Odell's picture
David Odell
Submitted by David Odell on
The ground is constantly moving. Especially here in the northeast. On any given day, they cannot account for losses from pipelines that are leaking without anyone knowing where. Having installed underground utilities, I have no doubt, that standards for pipe joinery are insufficient and do not account for ground movement. Watch for the water main breaks from Maine to Ohio after December, and note the progression as they start from Maine and pop, pop, pop, all the way to Cleveland. They are predictable. Every year.

bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
Environmental quality control at federal and state levels, such as EPA are always swift to ensure the public that hazardous waste spills such as this are minimal risk to the public’s health. If their family had to drink from this source of polluted water, you can darn well bet that they would be shaking in their boots. Grounds soften with wet winters, old pipes are already weakened and a small rupture is never going to close itself. America is quickly running out of water with the decades-old drought and our government continues to stick its head in the sand while nature is trying to open their eyes. Detroit is an example of the various levels of government turning a blind eye to the poisonous water ingested by its residents which finally caught up to them and the media had a heyday. Personally, I thank the media for its vigilance.